At 109, University Place woman is one of the oldest people in Washington

Ruth Hofto celebrates her 109th birthday

Ruth Hofto, who was born in 1910 and grew up in Cle Elum, celebrated her 109th birthday with family and friends in Tacoma.
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Ruth Hofto, who was born in 1910 and grew up in Cle Elum, celebrated her 109th birthday with family and friends in Tacoma.

Wherever Ruth Hofto goes, she’s guaranteed to be the oldest person in the room — even at her own birthday party where some of the other guests are over 100.

Hofto, a long time University Place resident, is one of the oldest people in the United States. On Monday she turns 109.

On Friday, well-wishers held an early birthday party for her at Community Connection Place in University Place.

The Memorie Singers, a senior choir, were there to serenade guests. Two cakes, both with “109” on them, were waiting for Hofto. The larger one had created a commotion earlier at Costco.

“They stopped us,” said the facility’s director Jonie Emrick of store staff and employees. “They said, ‘Wait a second, can we see that cake? 109?’ They called other people over.“

A stroke just before Thanksgiving has made it difficult for Hofto to gather her thoughts, and she finally had to move from the home she shared with daughter Jacki and into a care facility.

Hofto was enjoying the attention on Friday.

“I’d rather be here,” Hofto said of her birthday party. “Than in an institution.”

Her longtime canine companion, Pixie, can’t live with her but comes for a visit every day — along with Jacki.

“She loves my mom,” Jacki said. “She gives her a little kiss on the cheek.”

“I wish she was here now,” Hofto said of Pixie. “She hasn’t done any piano playing since I left.”

Pixie, a Maltese, is trained to play a toy piano in exchange for a treat.

Jacki Hofto said her mother has a good quality of life.

“They take such good care (of her),” Jacki said of the care facility staff.

Friend Carol Lobdell of Tacoma has known Hofto for about 20 years. She said Hofto has always had a sunny disposition.

“She’s just a sweet lady, always laughing, always wanting to go to the German restaurant in Lakewood,” Lobdell said.

Earlier in the week, Hofto was reminiscing about her job at the Tacoma Penney’s store during World War II.

“I had to work in the men’s department,” Hofto recalled. “I folded the shirts and all kind of stuff.”

She also, apparently, caught shoplifters.

“They stole all kinds of stuff,” she said of thieves, including one she chased down.

William Howard Taft was president when Hofto was born. She grew up in Issaquah. Her father was a coal miner.

Hofto is one of the oldest people in Washington. Margaret Whitlock held that title until March 5 when she died on her 113th birthday.

Now, it apparently belongs to Gertrude Ellison who will turn 111 on May 16. She lives in a care facility in Puyallup.

No agency tracks the oldest living people in Washington or the United States. Instead, they are made known through media reports.

A list maintained on Wikipedia that uses news reports as sources says the oldest living person is 116-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan. The oldest person is the United States is thought to be 114-year-old Maggie Kidd.

When Hofto celebrates her 110th birthday in 2020, she will become a supercentenarian. There are currently only 65 people in the United States who are known to be 110 years old or older.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.